Rosen: ‘Truth vigilante’ column stems from journalists’ insistence on objectivity

The NYU journalism professor and “view from nowhere” diagnoser explains how journalism reached the point where The New York Times public editor asks whether reporters should be “truth vigilantes”:

Something happened in our press over the last 40 years or so that never got acknowledged and to this day would be denied by a majority of newsroom professionals. Somewhere along the way, truthtelling was surpassed by other priorities the mainstream press felt a stronger duty to. These include such things as “maintaining objectivity,” “not imposing a judgment,” “refusing to take sides” and sticking to what I have called the View from Nowhere.

No one knows exactly how it happened, for it’s not like a policy decision came down at some point. Rather, the drift of professional practice over time was to bracket, or suspend sharp questions of truth and falsehood in order to avoid charges of bias, or excessive editorializing. Journalists felt better, safer, on firmer professional ground–more like pros–when they stopped short of reporting substantially untrue statements as false.

Related: Journalists are incredulous as Times public editor asks: ‘Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?’ (Poynter) | Rieder: “Questionable claims should be challenged as quickly as possible” (AJR) | Brisbane reacts: “In this case a lot of people responded to a question I was not asking.” (

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous

    Who says one cannot be objective and a “truth vigilante” at the same time? For instance, when Mitt Romney says Obama should stop “apologizing for America” it is fair to ask for an example and then point out that the statement is false, with documentation to back it up.

    As for objectivity, journalism has to be objective, not the journalist, as Tom Rosensteil points out. And to suggest that objectivity is impossible because we’re humans who cannot be objective is a cop-out. By that standard, many of the great virtues should be considered impossible because, as humans, we’re not perfect and can never obtain them. But by striving for objectivity, we can achieve something far better than the partisan ranting that is balkanizing the media.

  • Anonymous

    You, and Colbert, are right.  The press has become either outright conspirators in lies (Fox) or Washington Villager stenographers.